COLUMBUS — Culture isn’t the same everywhere. Right now, it’s very different at Ohio State than it is with most football programs.
As historical programs like Michigan, Penn State, Texas and others find themselves on the edge of collapse during the insanity that is 2020, the Buckeyes are thriving.
They are growing and improving. They are getting better when some of Ohio State’s top supposed rivals are falling apart.
Why? How does culture go from concept to consistent?
“I think it’s the type of people first off, that you bring in — the families, the parents, everybody really cares about each other,” Ryan Day said on Thursday afternoon. “We focus on trying to bring in really good players, but more importantly great people. That starts in recruiting.”
It’s the culture in Columbus that helped Ohio State land another huge piece of its future on Thursday night when 5-star quarterback Quinn Ewers committed, three weeks or so after he decommitted from Texas. The Buckeyes stand together, and that’s not the case at Texas right now.
When Ohio State doesn’t play well. they address it — directly — without pointing fingers and without hands thrown in the air in exasperation. That’s not the case at Penn State, where Jahan Dotson pointed to division within the team.
“We’re not as one right now, we’re not a unit right now,” Dotson said after Penn State lost to Maryland two weeks ago. “There are distractions that we shouldn’t be focused on right now.”
The distractions must’ve kept going because Penn State went out the next week and played flat and uninspired at Nebraska, losing for the fourth straight time.
No one seems to have any idea what’s happening in Ann Arbor, either, as Jim Harbaugh’s program is off to its worst start in almost 50 years. Harbaugh’s future is a hot topic every year. But even the most ardent and connected Michigan media members are now at least acknowledging a mutual parting of ways is possible following this season.
But Ohio State keeps plugging along. Winning games, winning recruiting battles and winning over people who once believed that the Buckeyes were nothing more than a football factory.
It’s not as though there’ve not been reasons that Ohio State could have collapsed. There’ve been plenty in the last decade, and most of those have come in the last three years. But the culture inside of the Woody Hayes Athletic Center, and a commitment to the program from Gene Smith and the school’s administration, kept it afloat when others would’ve sunk.
That’s the reason why, with multiple first-round talents on its roster, the Buckeyes didn’t lose a single player to Covid-19 opt-out decisions while Penn State and Michigan lost key parts of their teams. That doesn’t even speak of the lawsuits or the more dozens of transfer portal requests or yet another disturbing allegation against Nittany Lions coach James Franklin. Penn State doesn’t have a commitment from any of Pennsylvania’s top-10 prospects in the Class of 2021 — Ohio State has two.
“It’s just our culture,” Buckeyes defensive end Tyler Friday said. “Our culture is very consistent here. From my freshman year to my junior year now, things change slightly, but the culture always been the same. We build on toughness and brotherhood, regardless of what kind of players we got in the locker room or the coaches on staff, regardless if it’s your first year here or tenth year here, you understand the culture.”
Friday is one of five “starting” defensive ends for the Buckeyes. Each of them could be a true starter — and probably a star — elsewhere. They choose to play less so they can play for more.
Make no mistake: The players matter, of course. And Ohio State recruits as well or better than any team in the country. That’s the result of culture, not the genesis.
What happens when an early-offered 5-star player gets on campus can’t be different than what happens when a late-offered player does. Thayer Munford’s development can’t be treated differently than that of Josh Myers, Wyatt Davis, Harry Miller or Nicholas Petit-Frere. Rankings don’t mean a thing for culture if the most offered player and least offered player aren’t working toward the same thing.
“Once you get into the program, it’s do you want to compete to be elite,” Day said. “Do you want to fight every day to be the best version of yourself? That’s what we do. We just push each other to be better. We share all that in common and I think when you combine all those things, that’s where we get our culture.
“It’s as strong as ever.”
As two of the Big Ten’s blue-blood programs can attest, the gap between them and Ohio State is growing. That starts with Ohio State getting commitments from great football players — and ends with the Buckeyes being committed to being great.